DCI Karen Pirie is back. Struggling to adjust to life without her colleague and partner, Phil, she spends her nights walking the streets of Edinburgh, willing the tiredness to come to her. On her walks, she meets a group of Syrian refugees, their plight reminding her that life is complicated for all, and that the struggles and loss she has faced is not unique to her.
Meanwhile, up in Dundee a tragic accident involving some joyriders leads to some new evidence on a cold case from Glasgow, some twenty years earlier. A DNA match which proves not to be the easy answer that Karen had initially hoped it would be.
Needing advice on the case, she turns to an old school friend who now acts as a Social Worker in Fife. BY pure co-incidence, while she is there, Karen learns about a new case, a man who has a very tragic and unresolved event in his past. Karen’s interest is piqued. Not officially a cold case, but never technically resolved, she begins to unofficially look into the mysterious plane bombing, initially written off as a terrorist attack due to the profession of one of the victims.
But not everyone is thrilled that Karen is looking into this case. Someone is set on derailing the investigation before it has really begun, casting allegations against Karen that delight her boss, ACC Simon Lees, a man who has been determined to see the back of Karen for too long. With a long list of suspects, Karen will have to think outside of the box in order to catch a killer from two decades ago who may well have struck again.
Val McDermid has proven time and again that she is one of the true masters of mystery and suspense and ‘Out of Bounds’ is no exception. She has in Karen Pirie, developed a really intriguing character. She is far from perfect, is driven by a desire for solving the puzzles and bringing justice for victims, something which suits the cold case unit perfectly. In this she is reeling from prior events, something captured perfectly on the page as she battles insomnia and an ongoing conversation in her head as she tries hard to figure out what Phil would have done or said.
In terms of supporting characters, you cannot help but like Jason ‘the Mint’ Murray, the bumbling and perhaps generally intellectually challenged DC who works alongside her in the cold case unit. He is vulnerable, unbelievably naïve and yet has the heart of gold and an underlying amount of respect, and fear, for Karen. Their partnership is unorthodox, yin and yang, and yet it works perfectly.
The story itself, is complex, a series of almost perfectly timed coincidental meetings which lead Karen to the two cold cases that form the focus of the story. Alongside that, there is a strong social commentary on the condition and terms under which Syrian refugees are accommodated or perhaps more aptly, tolerated, in current society. There is an almost inevitable feeling of where that part of the story will lead, and I wasn’t surprised to see it head there, as sure and true as the Restalrig Railway Path on which it took place. But this was perhaps the only predictable part of the story, the rest of it branching off as series of possibilities, with any one of a number of possible resolutions to the two sordid tales.
I won’t begin to try and tell people how great the narrative, the setting and characterisations were. Anyone who has ever read any of the other 29 novels McDermid has written will know this is a given. The pacing matches the concept of a cold case unit completely, slightly less urgency in terms of finding the result as the evidence, as with many of the suspects, is considerably older than they used to be. However, when the pacing increased when the peril was the greatest, and from the outset the sense of a greater conspiracy always bubbled just under the surface of the story, drawing me, as the reader, most assuredly, to a very satisfying conclusion.
‘Out of Bounds’ was another first class delivery of an intriguing story, from a writer who never fails to impress. 5 stars
My thanks to NetGalley and publishers Little, Brown Book Group UK for the ARC of ‘Out of Bounds’ by Val McDermid in exchange for my review.
‘Out of Bounds’ is released in the UK on 25th August and is available to purchase here: